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Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS)

  • Owner / manager
  • Study and sample characteristics
  • Major foci
  • Special supplements and resources
  • Links to other datasets
  • Papers published
  • Dataset accessibility and cost
  • Help desk

Key web links 


Home page

Survey background

Household component

Insurance component

MEPS topics


Dataset Summary

The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) is a longitudinal panel survey that began in 1996 with nationally-representative information on health services use including expenditures, types and settings of care, payment and insurance information, and patient health status and diagnoses.  MEPS includes two distinct components: a “Household Component”, which provides patient-level information on health and health care, and an “Insurance Component,” which provides employer-level information on the types of health plans offered to their employees.
Data from the Household Component (the component used most commonly for research) come from interviews with subjects, supplemented by data provided by hospitals, physicians, home health care providers, and pharmacies that have provided care to those same subjects.  Thus, MEPS combines self-report and provider-reported data for the same patients.   The Household Component is publicly available at no cost, but the Insurance Component is not publicly released and requires approval and possible fees.

Expert comments  
The MEPS is ideally suited for studies on healthcare cost and out-of pocket expenditures because great care is taken to ensure accuracy of these data including thorough verification with third party sources.  It also allows studies on discrepancies between self-report and what is documented within the healthcare system in terms of healthcare utilization.  Because the sample is derived from a subsample of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), data can be merged and combined for additional information and time points (since NHIS collects data from the year prior to the baseline year in MEPS).

Dataset Details

Dataset Owner / Manager

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

Study and sample characteristics

The MEPS Household Component comprises a nationally representative panel survey of families and individuals, whereby subjects are enrolled and followed serially for two years (when a subject completes his or her participation, he or she is replaced by a new participant).  In 2006, 12,811 families comprising 32,577 persons were enrolled.  Data is available since 1996.  As noted above, health and health care utilization information for study subjects is obtained not only through subject interviews but by data collection from a wide variety of health care providers identified by subjects.

The MEPS Insurance Component comprises a nationwide sample of public- and private-sector employers.  In 2006, the Insurance Component collected data on insurance plans offered by 39,178 private sector establishments and 3,015 state and local government units.

Major foci  

The major focus of MEPS is healthcare utilization and expenditures including prescription and out of pocket expenditures.  However, a wide variety of other information is collected on each person in the household, including demographics, health conditions, health status, use of medical services, charges and source of payments, access to care, satisfaction with care, health insurance coverage, income, and employment.

The Household Component includes survey questionnaires on:

•    Access to care
•    Alternative and preventative care
•    Assets and income
•    Caregivers
•    Child preventative health
•    Conditions
•    Demographics
•    Dental care
•    Disability
•    Emergency room use
•    Employment
•    Health insurance
•    Health status
•    Home health
•    Hospital stays
•    Long-term care
•    Managed care
•    Medical / provider visits
•    Medications: prescription and over-the-counter
•    Outpatient department visits
•    Pregnancy information
•    Provider information
•    Satisfaction with health plans
The Insurance Component includes data on types of private insurance plans offered, premiums, contributions by employers and employees, eligibility requirements, benefits associated with these plans, and employer characteristics.

Items and questionnaires changes year to year, so be sure to look over several years for potential items of interest.

Special supplements and resources

MEPS intermittently administers supplemental self-administered questionnaires including the following.

•    The Adult Self-Administered Questionnaire, with information on patient satisfaction with health care, quality of life and overall health status, and attitudes.
•    The Parent-Administered Questionnaire, with information on satisfaction with health care and living with illness.
•    The Diabetes Care survey.

Links to other datasets  

As subjects in MEPS are a subsample of patients in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), data on MEPS subjects can be linked to the same subjects in NHIS.  This can provide additional information as well as additional time points.

Papers published  

Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.

The following publication search tool is available

Examples of papers published using MEPS include:

Loss of health insurance among non-elderly adults in Medicaid.
Sommers BD.
J Gen Intern Med. 2009 Jan;24(1):1-7.

Free drug samples in the United States: characteristics of pediatric recipients and safety concerns.
Cutrona SL, Woolhandler S, Lasser KE, Bor DH, Himmelstein DU, Shrank WH, LeLeiko NS.
Pediatrics. 2008 Oct;122(4):736-42. Erratum in: Pediatrics. 2009 Jan;123(1):197.

Uninsured children and adolescents with insured parents.
DeVoe JE, Tillotson C, Wallace LS.
JAMA. 2008 Oct 22;300(16):1904-13.

Patient-reported health status in coronary heart disease in the United States: age, sex, racial, and ethnic differences.
Xie J, Wu EQ, Zheng ZJ, Sullivan PW, Zhan L, Labarthe DR.
Circulation. 2008 Jul 29;118(5):491-7.

Influence of patient-provider communication on colorectal cancer screening.
Carcaise-Edinboro P, Bradley CJ.
Med Care. 2008 Jul;46(7):738-45.

Dataset accessibility and cost  

De-identified data files are free and can be directly downloaded or ordered on CD-ROM

Non-public data files are available at Data Centers and through the RDC network (after obtaining approval)

Help Desk  

Frequently-asked questions


Discussion Forum list server for e-mail questions and answers about the use of MEPS database

MEPS Project Director
Medical Expenditure Panel Survey
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

540 Gaither Road
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 427-1406

Request a consultation (SGIM members only)
Members of SGIM may request a one-time consultation with an expert in this dataset, for example to explore research ideas or to troubleshoot a problem or vexing question. Please click here for guidelines and the request process